Disney and other fairytales make the idea of blended families a scary concept. I say this because the wicked, jealous, evil stepmother is a recurring theme in stories from classics like "Cinderella" and "Snow White" to more modern animated tales like "Tangled". The message is clear- the scariest concept for a young girl is the absence of her real mother; she will forever be alone in a cold world, isolated and unprotected.
Some of this is warranted. There are some pretty wicked women out here in the world... some of these women are nice in front of a child's father but then turn cruel behind his back. Some of these women are manipulative and greedy. Some want nothing to do with his children at all. The ones who earn this "wicked" title definitely deserve it. Yes, there are plenty of real world stories that mimic this fairytale storyline, but that can't be the only message we give girls who readily flock to their screens to be schooled on princess culture. The worst woman in the world cannot always be the woman your father decided to remarry.
I was washing dishes when my oldest walks in deeply concerned... "Mom is it bad to be a stepchild?".
I looked at her slightly confused why this question was arising but decided this was a great opportunity to talk. "Well," I said, "it depends. It depends on who the other parent chooses. If your parent makes a good decision being a stepchild is not a bad experience. But, if your parent makes a selfish decision, being a stepchild might be a bad thing.".
She wasn't quite satisfied. She said "Wait, there's no bad decision?".
I said "No, there's a good decision for you and a selfish decision. Often the selfish decision results in a bad experience for you, but it's not necessarily bad for your parent.". She was not convinced so I decided to try and make it more real for her to understand.
"Ok, our cousin Nikkicole is going to be a stepmom soon right? She loves those kids very very much. She takes them places and buys them things and treats them as if they were her own children. She will be a great stepmom. But then there are other stepmoms that may mistreat you or talk about you or they are only nice to you in front of your dad. Those stepmoms would be a selfish choice because you father may not be aware or may not want to be aware because he enjoys being in a relationship with that person."
My daughter was satisfied. "Ok mom. I think I understand now". I hope she does. There is a high probability in the future that she will have a stepmother or potential stepmother and unless the woman deserved it, I would hate for my child to go into the situation with prejudice.
It's 2015, I challenge Disney to make a blended family story that works. A story that portrays blended families functioning normally. Art imitates life, but life also imitates art. To sensationalize divorce and separation through a dark and dismal lens creates a stigma that puts stepmoms and stepkids at a huge disadvantage. They already have a mountain of opposition to work through; their relationship does not need more villainy and division. That's not fair.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working in edtech. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.